COVID-19 Traffic Surge: Breaking The Internet?

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Many Americans are struggling with lagging or frozen videos since COVID-19 plagued not only the populous but the internet as well. Since the wide-spread quarantine measures have started taking effect, about two-thirds of people are sequestered home. Most are turning to the internet for social, economic, and recreational support. Still more are using the internet to work and go to school from home. Peak usage is now the new norm, but can the internet hold up?

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The Stress On The Internet

In Seattle, internet use was already spiking at the end of January, and by March it grew by 30%! This is the kind of jump in traffic seen only during huge events like the Olympics. The stress on the internet has been visible, on March 25th rolling outages lasting about an hour swept across the U.S. and the E.U. The gigantic increases are thought to be caused in part by WiFi calling, online gaming and Virtual Private Networks.

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Jon Peha, Professor of Electrical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, remarks “...there is a risk that usage will surge and capacity will be inadequate and performance will suffer. This is new ground for all of us.” In response to concerns of reaching capacity, the Federal Communications Commission granted a few telecom companies access temporarily, to unused spectrum to expand broadband access.

Residential internet has limits, standard home internet prioritizes download speed. This is indispensable for common home use, like streaming video, downloading applications, and simply browsing the web. Most DSL, cable, mobile wireless, fixed wireless, and satellite internet services offer fast downloads, but slower uploads, with newer cable broadband and fiber networks becoming more balanced.

Home Networks Getting Overwhelmed

Add the importance of upload speed for business uses, like videoconferencing, or sending large files, and we have robust needs for a one-trick pony. Home networks aren’t set up to handle the upload heavy needs of work or higher traffic with the whole family being home and can be quickly overwhelmed on the upload end. Already at the beginning of March, 4 of the 10 largest cities in the U.S. have residential internet slow down during the pandemic.

Recommendations for how to deal with the traffic surge range from changing DNS and limiting video quality to upgrading routers and straight out buying more bandwidth. It’s important to note that many ISPs are relaxing data caps to help compensate for user experience. Whatever options you choose, be smart and stay safe.

Learn more about what to do with coronavirus breaking the internet here!

Corona the Internet